Kanpo (herbal medicine)
The Japanese herbal medicine tradition developed originally from Chinese texts but, like many of the therapies described earlier in this chapter, went through uniquely Japanese stages of refinement and development. Nowadays, in Japan, only medical doctors are legally allowed to practise kanpo, yet over the counter kanpo remedies for the general public are hugely popular.
Japanese formula generally use fewer herbs than the Chinese ones and dried granular extracts are more commonly used than fresh herbal ingredients because they’re convenient and easy to take.
Kanpo diagnosis is based on eight principles described below as four pairs of opposites:
1. Determining if the person’s symptoms are predominantly kyo (deficient) or jitsu (excess)
2. Determining the stage of illness (chronic/acute)
3. Ascertaining whether the disease is external and superficial or internal and deep
4. Determining whether symptoms are predominantly hot or cold
After the predominant underlying weakness, or kyo, has been identified, it can then be treated with appropriate medicinal herbs. This approach is almost the opposite to the Western medical one, which focuses on identifying and treating the invading germ, virus, or bacteria. In kanpo, the emphasis is on supporting the weak or vulnerable parts or systems of the body to prevent them from succumbing to invading pathogens.
Because kanpo medicine focuses on an individual’s constitution and that person’s particular response to the disease, the treatment for different people with the same disease, according to Western medicine, will often be different. So, for example, if five people were diagnosed with asthma, in Western medicine they may all be prescribed the same type of inhalant medication, yet, in kanpo, their herbal medicine prescriptions, while maybe having some ingredients in common, would probably all differ.
Most kanpo formulas have five to ten ingredients. They’re usually made from plant ingredients including roots, bark, leaves, flowers, fruit, and fungi, although occasionally mineral or animal ingredients may be used. These ingredients are selected according to their individual effects on the body and also their combined effects with each other.
Kanpo herbal medicines are well researched and are regarded as safe to take, with virtually no side effects if prescribed and taken properly. If you’re pregnant, breast-feeding, or hoping to conceive you must always inform your practitioner or consult your GP before taking kanpo medicinal herbs.
You can take kanpo herbal medicines with Western medicine but ensure you’re carefully monitored by qualified and experienced practitioners in case of interactions. Always inform your GP and herbal practitioner of any medicines and herbs that you’re taking.